Tuesday, September 27, 2005

madam president


As with my usual fall plans (no pun here), I was tracking the fall season premiere shows in national networks. We had the new series COMMANDER IN CHIEF air in tonight and it was about how a lady ends up becoming a President of the United States. She is a independent-candidate Vice President and when the current President falls into a no-backing-out ill-health, the reigns of the government falls into the hand of this lady. The speaker and rest of the big bad boys want her out, but she doesnt back off that easily..

While I was watching this, I couldnt help but think, why is a "woman-president" such a big topic here in the United States. There are a gazillion articles out on this subject. Come on, isnt this the real free world ? Isnt this a model democracy ? Isnt this where talent and skill and vision are appreciated, irrespective of who you are ? Isnt this the same country where a person born & brought up in Nazi-Austria or Communist-China end up as Governor ? So what is the big deal with a 'woman-president' ? Africa - yes, but in America ??

On the contrary, a woman head isnt such a big deal in rest of the world, even in the so-called conservative world. There have been women heads of state, prime ministers in India, UK, Haiti, Bermuda, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Israel, Argentina, Lithuania, New Zealand, Bangladesh and in several other countries, even Rwanda !.. Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Srimavo Bhandaranaike, Golda Meir, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Aung San Su-Kyi, Benazir Bhutto, Sheikh Hasina, Corazon Aquino - a sample of very strong women who have run some of the very tough governments of this century - fairly well - and atleast no bad than that of any of their male contemporaries. While women are associated by default with the word 'indecisive', many of these women seem to be otherwise. They have had iron hands.

So why is this such a taboo in the United States ? This is so much a taboo that even when novels, TV series etc., bring this topic, the women ends up becoming a president not by winning an election directly, but because she is the VP when the President has a heart attack. The current Commander in Chief or Jeffrey Archer's memorable The Prodigal Daughter are samples of this. Why this act ? And they should stop this nonsense of having a women-president's husband to be the first-lady-husband or whatever that is. It is hopelessly embarrassing and makes look the White House staff to be a bunch of jokers. If you cant digest a women in the top-post it is okay, but you dont have to mock yourselves acting as if you would accept such a scenario.

Now is the time when we are seeing two very powerful women in the United States possibly set to clash for becoming the leader of the free world. There is the distinct possibility that Hillary Clinton and Condeleezza Rice will hopefully face each other in 2008 or 2012. (campaign sites: Rice for president and Hillary for president)It will be a good to watch show, and maybe, just maybe, the United States will shed its hyprocrisy on this subject for once.

One of the character in the TV series says - "If Moses were a woman leading the slaves from Egypt, she would have stopped and asked for directions and they would have reached Israel by afternoon". The women leaders have indeed impressed us and governed with conviction, atleast most of them. As Jack Nicholson says in "A Few Good Men", 'There is nothing sexier than waking up to a woman you have to salute in the morning. Promote 'em all, that's what I say'.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

the apparent-tease


I am writing off this post immediately after sitting through a painful sixty minutes of mockery and stupidity with a NBC premiere of a TV series called The Apprentice featuring Martha Stewart. As much as the original version of the same series featuring Donald Trump was moving towards brink of torture, NBC has decided to kill its entire viewership by putting out the Apprentice - Martha Wednesdays this fall..

The Apprentice itself was a very wonderful & novel concept that was pioneered by NBC 2 years back. The first season was very impressive with a 18 week interview to choose an apprentice for the real-estate tycoon Donald Trump. The series stressed about leadership, creativity, risk-taking, innovation, project management & hardwork. While the choice of Trump was still questionable, the selection of candidates, the projects allotted and the evaluation methodology & reasoning impressed many. The second season slowly slipped into a predictable pattern and the third season was hopeless. Similar trials by Sir Richard Branson in the FOX network didnt go as well as that of Apprentice and we all kinda hoped that this will end.

But NBC has changed strategy and put more misery to the viewers by augmenting the original version with its own mockery/satirical version. To start with, the very choice of Martha Stewart as the leader is simply incomprehensible. This is the lady who has spent the entire last year in house arrest sitting in a jumpsuit convicted for lying to interrogators and accused of 'insider trading'. NBC has made a mockery of everyone by projecting Martha as a 'successful leader' in the corporate world and with whom the young energetic minds of the free world want to work with.

The background score is an adaptation from the original and the camera zooms in & out exactly the same way. Another hopeless scene is that of the boardroom. Women just scream in there to increase the theatrics. The agreements were as dispassionate as one could think of and the "advisors" of Martha had absolutely no clue of what they need to do. The old-guy-advisor (Charles) had a cigar in his hand all though which was irritating. He neither lit it or seemed to smoke it.

The best comedy came in when Martha talked about how she 'connected' to customers and how her company was successful. She just didnt seem to know what she was supposed to say or do. It was so lame that it seemed as if the interview was to encourage people to leave / escape from associating themselves with this torture for another few weeks and maybe a year if they got selected eventually. "You dont fit in" is the 'punch' line used here - like that of Trump's famous "You're fired". Martha says that as if she will drop dead after delivering that dialogue. And the other fun was the way she wrote a 'letter' to the guy who was fired first. It was borrowed on the lines of the condolence letter the President writes to the family of war-martyrs. (like in Thirteen Days where JFK writes to family of Capt Rudolph Anderson).

Overall NBC has successfully managed to put up a comical or a MAD-TV version of its own Apprentice with Martha Stewart making a mockery of leadership. The race is on to see which one of the Apprentices generates more boring stuff.

Martha, You simply dont fit in.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

successful breakups


How much ever one can stretch, there are always certain relationships that we just want to get out of - how much ever the opposite side doesn't want us to get away. Exiting out of some of these relationships which we entered by accident is at times very tough and monumental ! And at the end of all the struggle and pain with emotions running high, when one attains closure, it feels like end of a Trojan war. Few even celebrate after these breakups - messy or not.

And I had two such major breakups in the recent past. While one held me under the pretext of my 'commitment', the other didn't let me go in spite of promising that there was no expectation of any commitment.

Before it sounds like a Darren Star's Sex & the City column, let me set the context straight. These relationships were with organizations that just wouldn't let me go- a cellphone company and an online DVD store.

I had to get out of a pre-paid cellphone scheme. In the jazzy "pre-pay & leave-when-you-want" advertisements, they always forget to add "leave-if-you-can". The company unilaterally declared that they would automatically charge me every month on the scheme, which seemed okay until I decided to "leave". I called up to cancel the subscription. It took me just 5-10 minutes and I was almost cheerful with surprise when the agent said "and yeah.. you need to call and cancel the automatic charge every month to avoid further charges..". He said it would take a few minutes only and that was handled by 'another department' and transferred my call. Little did I know that the word 'few' in his language actually translates into 50 agonizing minutes after pressing some 120 buttons to a machine that was blasting one question after another.

When some human came up, she said she had to transfer me to another unit which handles this particular scheme. There went another 50 minutes down the drain. Meanwhile the music interlude was getting horrible and I almost decided to pay every month instead of sitting and going through this torture. I was about to give up when another machine picked up the call and made me punch in few more numbers. After a relatively short wait of 20 minutes a real person came up & I ended the relationship then and there. She asked me "Before you go, I wanted to ask you why do you want to leave?"... and I said "Because I can and want to leave-when-I-want-to"

The story of online DVD store was different. Though they made me wait for only a few minutes much to my happiness, a drama ensued:

Me: I need to cancel my membership.. I ve fulfilled the commitment of this relationship.

CH(the store operator): Well, sir. You have to buy 2 DVDs from us to fulfill the commitment.

Me: I did get 2 of them at regular price already.

CH: Yes you did. But you see, they were bought at $18.95 each. For our commitment count, they need to be bought at $19.25 or higher.

Me: But your website did allow me to count them as commitment

CH: We are sorry for that Sir. But they dont count even if the website allows it. Also we have given you a $15 credit.

Me: You credited $15 in my account ? I didnt see that.

CH: No sir, it means that you can buy a DVD worth of $15 from us when you buy one more at regular full price. But again, you cant use this offer against our commitment.

Me: I dont care. I dont need any credit. And I wont pay a penny more. I need to end this relation NOW.

CH: Well, that is not possible. You still need to honor the commitment.

Me: I hope you know that AOL, based out of Reston, Va just paid $1.25 million in damages for making it difficult for their subscribers to leave.

CH: (after 10 seconds on hold): Ok Sir. We are canceling your membership. Just a last question - why are you leaving us ?

Me: Because you force me to stay with you, thatz why..

And so my friends, I ended two relationships abruptly in spite of the other party wanting me stay - committed or not. Now, how often can I afford to say something like that ? ;)


Sunday, September 11, 2005

bike trails around washington


This has been an awesome sports weekend. Super Saturday with some amazing display of tennis by Agassi, Ginepri, Federer, Hewitt, Pierce and Clijsters. Then was the wonderful Formula One with Kimi and Alonso still continuing their fight for the driver and manufacturer championships at Belgium. And of course, an nailbiting 2 point win of our local team Redskins over the Chicago Bears in the NFL season kickoff...

I also did some good biking over the weekend and I thought I will quickly summarize some of the exciting trails in and around Washington, DC.

The ACCONTIK CREEK TRAIL is located just off the 395/495 junction 20 miles south of Washington, DC. This trail starts from outside Franconia/Springfield metro and goes uptill the Accontik creek along the Fraconia Springfield Parkway. The creek is silent and wonderful and undistrubed with a lovely stream running across. The trail is small and about 5 miles out and back.

The ACCONTIK LAKE TRAIL is a 5 mile loop around the Accontik lake. It is located near the Orange & Alexandria Railroad line. The trail has some steep climbs and gravel path. The lake is located near the Beltway near Braddock Road exit.

The WASHINGTON & OLD DOMINION TRAIL is a 45 mile trail running from Shirlington-Alexandria off 395 to Purceville, 10 miles west of Leesburg. This was originally a Alexandria-Fairfax-Leesburg railroad converted to a biking trail in 1988. You will pass former railroad stations along the way including Bluemont junction, Dunn Loring Station, Vienna station (photo right) etc., At certain places, caboose are placed (photo left) and they add a lovely touch to this trail. The trail is mostly flat and paved. It is full of greenery all the way. The initial 10 miles intersect with local roads and it is better to stop and go. The trail intersects Gallows road and Maple Avenue and the traffic here is heavy. There are not sufficient water fountains however the trail passes through several shops on the way. The trail also is connected with several other trails like Curtis trail, Four Mile Run trail etc.,

The MT.VERNON TRAIL is by far the best trail for beginners in DC area. Starting from near Rosslyn Metro, it is a 19 mile trail to Mt. Vernon - home of George Washington. The trail runs alongwith Potomac river all the way and passes though several points of interest - Ladybird Johnson memorial, Navy memorial, Roosevelt memorial, Gravilly point, Jones point lighthouse, Dyke Marsh, Old Town Alexandria Belle Haven Marina and of course Mt. Vernon. The trail is equipped with several fountains on the way and there are shops (even Starbucks!!) at Old Town. One can get down and wet his feet in the Potomac at certain places. Make sure you carry a camera - the Gravilly point landing zone is a glorius sight. So are the backyard-river of rich old town bungalows and the Jones point. (The photo right is one of the backyards of old town bungalows. People have their kayaks anchored there and use it as if they were getting out and taking a car from their garage. The Wilson bridge is in the background.)

[Thanks to my friends E- for the book on VA trails, Mr & Mrs S- for the hitch and an awesome summer of 2005.]


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

blogger in a coma


Over 14 months of blogging
21 different categories
A total of 195 amazing posts
Somewhere close to 540 comments
Thousands of page views
Hundreds of trackbacks
More than fifteen requests to resume posts
One wonderful blogger

ssshhh.. SILENCE.....

And then all of a sudden the blogger falls into a coma !!! For the past month and more, every time I visit the blog, angry face of Master Yoda stares with a light saber - almost reflecting the angry face of loyalist readers that there isnt a new post out there.

Now, what the hell is a blog ? It is for all reasons, a personal journal. A journal maintained on the web where personal thoughts are recorded and fortunately/unfortunately exposed to public. So who has the right to come and question "why isnt there a update ?". It is the prerogative of the author, for Godssake.. it is his thoughts, his time and his decision..

Is it ?

When people frequent this journal to read, appreciate, digest, understand and debate about various topics, it is not just a journal anymore. It transforms into a column. A column where topics are not simply personal anymore. There is a social obligation to the author to feed his loyal readers with continious thought provoking articles. The author should not claim business, busy-ness, laziness, travel, distractions, boredom, unconsciousness, hibernation, habitual offence, quarter/half-life crises, lack of interest, born-a-leo, coma, even death - just like that - and use any/all of these excuses to stop his flow of words for so long..... No logoffs, shutdowns, hibernates or stand-by!!!... - RESTART the writing.

Even in fiction world, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had to bring Sherlock Holmes back to life because his readers didnt like the fact that there is no Holmes anymore. Martin Luther said "You are not just responsible for what you say; you are equally responsible for what you do not say".

I believe I have made my point.


Monday, September 05, 2005

symbiosis & peaceful rise


Several of the world nations have responded to the aftermath of deadly Katrina's washout, offering aid to the rescue operations. Australia immediately offered US $7.7m, India responded with a US $5m, Bangladesh offered US $1m, even Sri Lanka, still coping with the Tsunami mess offered a small but still a goodwill amount of US $25K as a relief to the victims - several other nations sending doctors, nurses, medicine etc.,

But one of the most curious offers has come from America's long time adversary - Cuba. The nation led by facist dictator Castro offered to send 1000+ doctors with medicine. When US didnt respond to that offer, Castro increased the number of doctors to 1500+ each carrying about 30lb medicine. America however is yet to respond to the offer. Meanwhile Castro has asked his doctors to take crash course on immunology and spoken English. He has been sensitive to name this resuce squad after Henry Reeve the American who fought in Cuban war of independence against Spain in late 1800s. The other adversary who has offered help is Iran.

What Katrina has proved is that, even the world's most powerful nation is still divided by racism and poverty line; it doesnt have sufficient leadership to cope up with national crises; and most importantly that wars & battles will always be there - but when it comes to humanity, symbiosis is the key to survival.

China has offered US $5m and is ready to send a team of rescue workers. With the anti-China mentality going all time high in Washington, this offer of help and a upcoming Hu Jintao's visit will hopefully change the US mood towards China. Interesting, communist China distanced its Communist policies from that of the 'communist party of Soviet Russia' and is talking everywhere about peaceful rise to anyone who would listen. China has declared once again that it will grow as a superpower on live and let live basis and not depend on war or agression which was what many other nations like Japan, Germany or UK depeneded earlier. (Jintao is trying to retrieve this theory after it had almost died a premature death in late 2004).

Hu Jintao's visit is more businesslike and he is primarily here to advocate the peaceful rise theory in Washington and make the US leaders agree and adapt to the fact that China is emerging as one of the biggest superpowers and economies in the world. Back home, Jintao is also talking of stuff like gender equality, citizen rights etc., inspite of being a communist hardliner himself.

China is heavily lobbying for recogonition within the world community and the Zheng theory of "peaceful rise" is certainly to be welcomed from a otherwise military dictated nation. However it is important for China to realize that the theory is not just for its peer powers like US or UK, but also necessary to honor against some of its own kin like Taiwan or Tibet. One cannot become the incredible HULK with a fractured hand or broken leg.